Current Issue / DU Alumni

Alumna prosecuting Charles Taylor for war crimes in Sierra Leone

Brenda Hollis (JD ’77) calls Denver home, but she currently lives in The Hague, Netherlands, serving as principal trial attorney in the prosecution of Charles Ghankay Taylor, the ex-president of Liberia who is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his involvement in the armed conflict in Sierra Leone.

Hollis’ employer is the Office of the Prosecutor in the Special Court for Sierra Leone. She began working on the Taylor case in 2002 collecting evidence of crimes; she became lead prosecutor in February 2007. The trial began on Jan. 8, 2008, and the prosecution, under Hollis’ leadership, has spent the last year building its case against Taylor.

“We will have called some 90 witnesses and sought to have introduced several hundred documentary exhibits,” says Hollis, who rested her case this spring.

Taylor’s defense has begun building its case. Hollis doesn’t expect a judgment until 2010.

“I chose criminal litigation, in particular criminal prosecution, because I am committed to ensuring those who commit crimes are held accountable for them,” Hollis says. “I am also committed to ensuring that those accused of crimes are afforded all the rights the law provides.”

In 1998 Hollis retired from the Air Force as a colonel. While in the Air Force, Hollis was loaned to the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. She worked for three years as an investigative legal officer and as one of the prosecutors in the Dusko Tadic case—the first internationally litigated case since the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunal cases in which a person was charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“My work took me on many missions into Bosnia when it was still a hot war,” Hollis says. “And it put me in contact with many victims of the most vicious and widespread crimes, crimes which resulted in the killing of tens of thousands of civilians, rapes of at least that number, torture and other, unimaginable violence against the young, the old, males and females.

“These experiences strengthened my belief that only when perpetrators of such crimes are held accountable can there be a true peace, and that the victims of these crimes deserve such accountability.”

“[Hollis] always had a great deal of passion for international law and human rights,” says DU Sturm College of Law Professor Ved Nanda. “Once you have that bug bite—human rights and justice—you can’t ignore these very difficult and most significant issues of the present time.

“She has been in the forefront of fighting that good battle.”

Hollis says she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“We would not tolerate such crimes to go unpunished in our society, nor would we tell the victims to just forget about it and move on,” says Hollis. “It is the height of arrogance and insensitivity to deprive others in the world of such accountability, an arrogance to which I cannot subscribe.”

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